On our self-drive safari adventure in Kruger National Park (see previous entry on the “Big Five” here) we were amazed at the sheer variety and exoticism of the birds we saw. Apparently over 400 species (resident and migratory) call Kruger home, at least for part of the year. The park is really well set-up for birdwatching, with many hides set up next to waterholes and so on, and while I would not in any way call myself a twitcher, I did at least take an interest in what birds crossed paths with me, which is more than I can say at other times in my life.
In any event, we were lucky enough to encounter these fellows during our time in Kruger:
A few more bird shots can be found on my Flickr set here.
Next up: some more of the fantastic creatures lurking around the Kruger…
Following on from our brilliant time exploring Cape Town and its beautiful surroundings, we hopped a plane to Johannesburg, picked up our soon-to-be-abused rental car (a miniscule VW Polo we nicknamed “Egbert”) and headed west-northwest towards the Kruger National Park. What attracted us to Kruger was not only its reputation as a game-spotters paradise or its size (think Wales), but primarily we liked the sound of a self-drive safari. Yes, that’s right, instead of having to squeeze into a ruggedized Land Rover with ten random fat tourists, we were free to explore the park and get up close to the animals as we saw fit. As a photographer this is a blessing. Of course, next time I would have chosen a slightly bigger / higher car, but I still preferred it to being subject to the whims of over-excitable children (“LOOK! AN IMPALA!” for the 80th time) or, worse…. birders. 🙂
“THE BIG FIVE”
Ever since Victorian times, there have been five animals in Southern Africa which have been known by this collective moniker. This is not because these are the five biggest species around – no, it’s because, back in Victorian times, these were the five animals most likely to turn around and make a run at you if you missed them with your first shot. We managed to see four of the Big Five, only missing out on seeing leopards, who are very elusive at the best of times, but in the 35-42C heat we experienced (early November) the leopards were well-nigh invisible. But we had many, many consolation prizes…
As mentioned above, the daytime heat, even in early morning / late afternoon, was pretty staggering – so the lions we saw were generally interested in one thing only: sitting around and panting. This had plus points and minus points. The minus point was the obvious lack of “action” shots. The plus point was that, once you worked your way through the scrum of cars angling for a look, it was generally safe to stick your lens out the window from a distance of down to 10 feet / 3m and shoot away without fear of losing a limb. So, out of a wide variety of sitting-around-and-panting shots I have chosen these three:
I have to be frank here and say that, despite their fearsome Victorian reputation, I did not find the African Buffalo to be particularly captivating. I suppose they must suffer a lot for this, as many people can name four out of the Big Five and then stall when trying to remember the poor old buffalo…
One of the first encounters we had with a rhinoceros was at close range, as it was ambling along the side of the road, grazing on the fresh green grass to be found there. We were one of only a couple of vehicles and for a time we were able to almost idle alongside it and snap away. It might have been the heat, but almost every time we saw the rhinos I did not feel the slightest hint of threat. It was great as well to get up close to a creature that has essentially not changed for millions of years. Our only regret was that we only saw white rhinos, not the much rarer black rhino.
Elephants were byt far the most numerous of the Big Five we encountered, which was lucky as we were so enamoured of them. They are the real deal, by turns majestic, powerful, slightly menacing, and – would you believe it – playful. Once we got over our initial nervousness of how to manoever around the big bulls (in short: do what they want and be ready to run like hell) we really got to enjoy just sitting and watching these giants do their thing, which is primarily running ravage over the countryside, leaving a trail of shredded, snapped and denuded trees in their wake. And you haven’t lived till you’ve been in the middle of a herd of 30-40 elephants as they cross the road in front of and behind your car…
We were very happy to see quite a few instances of play-fighting by the younger elephants, usually in and around the water. On our last day, when three separate herds totalling over 70 animals had shown up at a watering hole below our picnic spot, we watched amused as the elephants played tug-of-war with their trunks, splashed about in the mud, and in one instance, even cheekily mock-charged a pod of hippos hanging out nearby.
More Shots from my Big Five collection may be seen here.
Next installation of photos from Kruger will be…. birds. After that I will move onto some other critters we encountered on our safari. Stay tuned!
I’ve been clocking up the miles lately. For most of October I was away with work, first in Dubai, then Turkey, and finishing up in South Africa. Fortunately, when my work was done in South Africa, I was able to kick back and relax a bit, and Nicola flew down to join me for a 10-day trip combining a bit of a a sun-and-fun city break in Cape Town with a magical 5 day safari drive through the Kruger National Park up on the borders of Mozambique / Zimbabwe. But I am getting ahead of myself…
We started out in Cape Town, a fascinating city with much to recommend it: from the amazing geography of the place – all views dominated by Table Mountain looming above – to the diverse and vibrant population (somehow not bitter after all their potted history), it was a great start to our trip. And the Capetonians sure know how to eat, drink and be merry. We based ourselves just on the other side of the mountain from downtown, in a swish beach resort suburb called Camps Bay. From our 1 bedroom flat overlooking the ocean we set out each day to get to know the town and the surrounding area, including the Winelands, the Cape Point, the Kirstenbosch gardens and of course Table Mountain itself. We had very full days punctuated by some of the finest meals we’ve had in ages. A great start to the trip.
Camps Bay and Table Mountain (Panoramic) – click here to view this in a large format
Cape Town from Table Mountain (Panoramic) – click here to view this in a large format
Of course, these and other Cape Town shots can be found over in my Flickr set here.
Stay tuned – in the not too distant future, I will post select shots from the second half of our trip – our safari through the Kruger National Park…